Tuesday, November 08, 2005

An "Army of One" No More

I always thought it was stupid, and now it's going to be history: the U.S. Army's "Army of One" recruiting campaign. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this was the wrong message. Not only did it remove the critical "team" element of the military, but it tried to appeal to individualistic, independent-minded people, those who are least likely to fit in with the conformity required by the Army.

This paragraph of James Arndorfer's story misses the point, though:

The line has been criticized since it was first unveiled, with critics arguing it undermined the notion of the Army as a team. But denunciations fell flat as the Army met its recruiting goals—even amid fighting in Afghanistan and the early phase of the war in Iraq. That changed last year as an increasingly bloody guerilla war raged on. The Army missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting target of 80,000 recruits by nearly 7,000.
Doesn't it occur to him that the ad campaign had absolutely nothing to do with the Army's success and that a new campaign could not possibly turn around recruiting numbers? Advertising may make a difference in peacetime, but not since 9/11. I mean, as a copywriter I want to believe that ads have power, but this isn't a matter of getting someone to buy a different brand of paper towels.

Americans were so gung-ho to get Osama that there was no way the Army could have missed its recruiting goals, and that spirit carried on into Iraq. We were told that Saddam had WMDs, and then we were told "mission accomplished." In that hyper-patriotic environment, any advertising campaign was a waste of money. New recruits were actually seeking out the military. If the nightly news wasn't enough to inspire people, they could have run 15-second commercials: show Osama's face and have a voiceover say, "Let's get that bastard!"

As for reversing the failure, I cannot imagine an ad campaign that would make people want to join the military right now (I'm not saying people shouldn't join, just that advertising wouldn't change a person's mind). Things are such a mess and people are so divided, there's no way Leo Burnett (responsible for the "Army of One" campaign) or any other ad agency could turn things around. Heck, the new ad campaign could offer free beer in Iraq and still not make the Army's recruiting goals. Okay, maybe free beer would do it, but refrigeration isn't cheap in the desert. And would we really trust an Army of drunken frat boys to defend our national interests?

But seriously, I believe it is far more likely that government propaganda will be spread by the complicit mainstream media to rejuvenate recruiting. Traditional advertising won't have much to do with it.

1 comment:

Chris said...

So they should turn to direct mail, as the Marines have done -- my wife, who is in a Master's program, was just promised an officer commission by the time she graduates if she signs up for ROTC! Too bad she's out of the demographic by a few years ...